Proud New Zealander Tamati Young had never picked up an Australian Rules football until seven years ago.
His Maori heritage also meant when he finally had a crack at Australia’s indigenous game, it was considered merely a means of staying fit during rugby’s off- season.
Neither of those facts stopped West Perth from saying yes when the 22-year-old wrote to the club in October asking for a crack at a footy career.
Four months on, the Butler resident is coming to the end of his first full pre-season with the Falcons and is on track to achieve his target of at least one league game this year.
“The tackling was easy, the running was easy,” he said.
“It’s just a different set of skills. Like any sort of sport, you have to master them.
“In rugby it’s much more head-on. I really like AFL because you don’t have to be big or strong.
“If you’re a smart player, you can do well.”
Young, who grew up in Auckland, was introduced to Australian Rules as a 15-year-old.
He was chosen for New Zealand’s Senior and Under-20 team, and has played seniors for the Waitakere Magpies in the Auckland AFL League.
In recent weeks the rugby convert has seen former teammate and now Hawthorn international rookie Kurt Heatherley play two pre-season matches for the AFL premiers.
“He’s been on the rookie list since he was 16,” Young said. “It was exciting for New Zealand sport to see him out there.”
AFL is gradually gaining a foothold across the Tasman.
More than 30,000 New Zealanders take part in Australian Rules programs, while St Kilda have committed to hosting an AFL match on Anzac Day in Wellington for the next five years.
Young said he wouldn’t be surprised to see a New Zealand team playing in the AFL in the future.
“In the rugby pools, there’s a phenomenal amount of talent,” he said. “If there was really good recruiting or scouting, there’s more than enough talent there to make a team.”